The Missing Sonic Controls

     What would it take to enjoy once again your favorite music? More money? Greater technological advancements in the design of CDs, amplifiers, and loudspeakers? Still the 5-inch loudspeaker once did provide enjoyment while playing certain songs. No, the restoration of that lost enjoyment requires not more money nor even better technology, but a restoration of lost sonic control over our listening system, as only by doing so can we regain the ability to tailor and adjust the sound, to undo the stark minimalism, to exploit the technologically advanced stereo equipment available today, to adapt to the music we want to hear; in other words, to make the system conform to our demands, our pleasure, and our enjoyment.
    But...wait a minute! What does our enjoyment have to do with sonic truth? Shouldn't a stereo system be like a perfectly clean window giving unto the Kingdom of Sound? Thus, do we not all seek the absolutely
true sound possible, wrinkles and warts included? Far too many of us do, unfortunately. Consequently, the prevailing view today is that a stereo system should be something like an entirely objective reporter, reporting the facts, just the facts. Thus, the case of the missing sonic controls does not appear in a modern mystery novel, because we all know who did it: we all did it. When we wanted sonic controls, manufacturers sold us controls; and when we eagerly sacrificed sonic controls at the altar of purity, the same manufacturers stop selling them. In other words, sonic control was forsaken in the quest for the "absolutes." 
    What are these absolutes? It is as if the philosophy's old war between Realism and Idealism has been fought again between the meter readers and the golden eared and the war has ended in a truce that prohibits either side from using sonic controls. For the scientifically inclined, the absolute is the electrons themselves. As long as the scope shows no difference between incoming and outgoing signals, it does not matter how an amplifier sounds in your living room with your loudspeakers. All that matters is the easily specified voltages and currents created by the electrons. Engineering has met its conditions of satisfaction,

   Imagine if you encountered a telescope manufacturer, whose product line embodied a severe minimalism: telescopes built with the fewest lenses possible, telescopes without eye adjustment knobs, telescopes without color or polarizing filters, telescopes without magnification adjustments, telescopes that were instead built to a single fixed magnification and fixed position, telescopes that could reveal only a few celestial objects in clear focus because of the fanatical adherence to preserving the all of the purity of the light entering the telescope; and if you complained about the blurry image of your favorite star, the manufacturer would superciliously reply that your favorite star was not worthy of his telescopes and that you should be looking at other, better stars -- if you encountered such a strange business, then you would not see anything that radically different from what is practiced in high-end audio today.
    In high-end audio, it is human beings who were created for audio equipment and it is they who must conform to its demands. Thus, balance controls are rare; tone controls, nonexistent; so too, stereo/mono switches and, heaven forbid, equalizers or loudness controls. It is as if the Puritans' renunciation of shiny buttons has been one-upped by the elimination of buttons altogether.
    In a high-end salon, played on a $40k system, a system made up of some of technology's newest triumphs, most of your once-favorite albums, strangely enough, no longer sound good. And while a few high-quality recordings of mediocre performances do sound good, they do not artistically merit a second listening, an amazing technological feet, considering that your favorite music was once enjoyed readily when heard through a car or table radio's single 5-inch speaker.

< PREVIOUS   Copyright © 2002 GlassWare   All Rights Reserved